HEIGHT WITH FRIENDS - BALTIMORE HIGHLANDS (2009)
Produced by Mickey Free, King Rhythm, Al Lover, PT Burnem, Nasty Millionaire, Shields, Jones and Height
Additional vocals by Mickey Free, Wye Oak, King Rhythm, Emily Slaughter, and PT Burnem
Recorded and mixed by Mickey Free and Rob Girardi
Art by PSO Design
Code Of Love
Standing Up Asleep
Cold And Shaken
This song comes from listening to Robert Johnson and Leadbelly and wanting to write phrases like them, instead of doing 16 bar verses. Listening to old-school rap, (like Whodini or Kurtis Blow) had made me see that 16 bars doesn’t have to be the standard, and that rap songs can have a bridge or a long musical break or a pre-chrous like any other type of song. 16 bars is just a made up convention like everything else. This song opened me up to a whole new world of writing.
This is Mickey Free and I talking about dropping out of society and heading to the hills like Jackson Whites. (an offensive term, I later learned) Of the many Mickey Free / Height collaborations, this one is a personal favorite.
I had been messing around with this Shields beat since 2001. By the time I finally had a set of words for it, Shields had lost most of the beat files, and all I had was a lo-fi hissy tape of the beat. King Rhythm listened to the tape and replayed the organ. It sounded exactly the same, which was impressive because it was an usual sounding sample from a 60’s psych record, and it was in a non-existent key..
When I realized this King Rhythm beat was up for grabs, I decided we had to go in again on Escape Tune, our back and forth rhyme from Utility Fog 2. I think of this version as the real version.
My day job was taking me to a neighborhood called Baltimore Highlands. I had never been there before. The name sounded majestic and trashy at the same time, which is how I see Baltimore. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve been inspired just by being here. I feel like it’s a paradise for artists, both in terms of thing being feasible and affordable and in terms of being around tons of creative souls. I wanted the album to take place in the Baltimore of my mind.
Around 2008, my man PT Burnem had moved back in with his folks in Burtonsville, MD. He was without wheels at the time, and I would drive down there late at night to visit him. There was a cool patch of woods by their house. We would walk around the woods in the moonlight, and have conversations that maybe wouldn’t have happened in the city. This always led to us returning to the basement for late night music-making / coffee drinking. That place and that time meant a lot to me, which is why I made these two woods songs. PT Burnem made the bulk of the beat. Mickey Free, Jones King Rhythm and I all added layers to it at different times.
CODE OF LOVE
This is a kind of heavy tune about struggling to get a grip with the harsher parts of life, and the harsher parts of yourself. Some people have told me they see it as more of a love song, and that’s okay as well.
A super-short rap that comes from observing the day-to-day life of my friends during this time.
STANDING UP ASLEEP
This was a strange experiment where I wrote alternate words to Bob Dylan’s I Don’t Believe You, and then reverse-engineered it into a rap song.
I tried to emulate the rhythm of Schoolly D’s verses on Smoke Some Kill. I think that’s one of the tightest raps ever, and I was compelled to try it in a new context.
This is one of my first times experimenting with having backup rappers, (PT Burnem and Emily Slaughter) the way singers have backup singers. I didn’t want them to be like hypemen that say what you’re saying over top of you. I wanted them to be their own entity that says some of their own words. This dynamic would become a central element of my albums and live shows for the next four years.
COLD AND SHAKEN
Here’s another beat worked on by a bunch of people. Mickey Free did most of it, and then King Rhythm added layers that complimented the words I had laid down. I had a basic idea for a vocal harmony for the second verse, and Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack from Wye Oak worked it out and sang it. Looking back, working this way worked out well, and I hope to do it again.